Thursday, July 28, 2016

What do Chaplains wear?

When I first started this chaplain gig four years ago I remember being entirely puzzled by what to wear for my shifts in the hospital.  This is a professional job, but it comes unique challenges when it comes to attire. I will share a few of the things that I have learned in the hopes that it might be helpful for all those CPE students or other chaplains.  I can only speak to women's attire, perhaps my male colleagues have more to offer for men.

First, hospitals will likely have a dress code of some sort.  Chaplains fall into the "professional" category of employees, but do most of their work in clinical areas and have direct patient contact. Other professionals who fall into this category include social workers, registered dietitians, pharmacists and psychotherapists. At the bare minimum, hospital dress codes usually include closed-toe shoes, socks (no flats for women unless wearing tights or socks), and what is termed "professional/business casual attire."  For women this can be button-down shirts, slacks, cardigans, skirts, etc.  Some hospitals have their own specifics.  I've worked at facilities that required me to cover my forearm tattoo (hence why I have a wide variety of cardigans).  My current employer has requested that we dress "for safety", which means no dangling scarves, neckties, earrings, necklaces, etc, that could be become hazardous by being pulled by patient or caught while doing a task.

Next, think about what you need from your clothing to complete your tasks at work.  I carry two pagers simultaneously, which means I need somewhere to clip them.  For this reason, dresses don't work for me and I never wear them to work.  I will wear skirts if they have a tailored waistband that can support the pagers. I also need pockets because I am frequently carrying around pieces of paper, rosaries, and other things.  My work requires standing, but also bending my knees and squatting down next to beds or chairs, and lots of walking around.  I have found that what works best for me to wear are high-end tailored neutral color scrub pants.  My favorite style is the five pocket pant from Grey's Anatomy by Barco. I have them in black, charcoal and khaki.
This is a typical summer work outfit
 They have pockets, look presentable and are comfortable. This may or may not be acceptable depending on your hospital. I am frequently cold at work, as hospitals keep temperatures low to reduce infection risk.  I wear layers (cardigans, fleece vests or sweaters) all year.  Bonus points if your warmup jacket contains pockets. You need to wash your hands a lot, so having sleeves that roll up is important.

This is a typical cooler weather
work outfit for me.


Third, think about your clothing as it relates to infection prevention for yourself and for your patients. Some units (at my hospital the SICU and Burn Unit) require you to remove a sweater, jacket, cardigan or lab coat upon entry. Everything I wear to work is machine washable, because I have no interest in dry cleaning. As evening chaplain, I am on every single unit. I could be in the ER with extremely injured patients, I could be on the burn unit with patients at high risk of infection, I could be on labor and delivery or I could be visiting someone on enteric or contact isolation precautions in the MICU. I do not want my clothing to become an infection vector for myself, my family, or other patients.  So once I wear something to work it goes directly into the hamper at home until it is washed.

Shoes are an important consideration when it comes to comfort, functionality and safety.  I wear a dedicated pair of Danskos to work.  They are the Pro XP model, which has a slip resistant sole and removable insole.  I have custom orthotics which fit into the clogs. I walk about 14-16k steps per day at work, so comfortable shoes are a must. I wear these shoes pretty much only to work and they live just inside my front door because I have no desire to track anything nasty into my home.

With regards to accessories, I wear a watch or fitbit everyday.  I note when I enter and exit a patient's room, because I must enter that into a chart note later. I have a work notebook that is covered with leather and has a pen attached for this purpose. It has taken many iterations to find a system that works for me. Sometimes I use scraps of paper, but I find that the notebook is useful for keeping track of information for more than one shift and sometimes patients or families will request a blank sheet of paper and I can just tear one out of my notebook for them. I usually have one or two pens clipped to my shirt or in my pockets also because pens are a hot commodity in a hospital. Hospitals require you to wear a name badge in a place that is visible above the waist. I wear mine clipped to my collar on the left side. This gives me access to hospital doors, the employee parking garage, and identifies me as someone who belongs at the hospital.

A note on clergy shirts for chaplains:
I would never wear a clergy shirt while visiting patients in my work as chaplain.  For me, a clerical collar belongs in a parish as a work uniform for the pastor or preacher.  Just as I would never wear my employee badge to preach in a congregation, I would never wear my clergy shirt to the hospital while employed as chaplain. I find that the image of a clergy collar can be off-putting to patients who might have had bad experiences with church and who are already in an extremely vulnerable state while being hospitalized. For me, not wearing a clergy shirt is a matter of hospitality.  I also find that outside my specific Lutheran context, a woman in a clergy shirt is confusing and controversial. I find that the shirt is a distraction more than a comfort. People know that I am not a Catholic priest but cannot seem to make the required leap that I am a pastor. Additionally, chaplains are interfaith. I visit patients who are Christian, but also Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hmong, or no particular religious tradition at all. A clergy shirt can create barriers to conversation or create a sense of exclusion.

These Shoes

These shoes belong to a chaplain. These shoes are "hospital shoes", which is a nice way of saying they barely make it inside the front door of my home. Because I have no desire to bring MRSA, CDiff, VRE or anything else home to my family. 

These shoes are hardworking shoes. They walk endless miles of hallways, at least 5-6 miles a day. 

These shoes are covered in blue surgical booties in bloody traumas or operating rooms at the time of organ donation. 

These shoes stand alongside deathbeds and extubation procedures and trauma bays. 

These shoes are stared at during family consults and death notifications and on silent elevator rides with families who leave their beloveds in a sterile morgue.

These shoes see so much. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

On Black Lives Matter: A letter to other liberal white people

I have struggled with whether or not to write anything about Black Lives Matter, because the last thing the world needs is another white person centering their voice in the movement. I have had a voice for too long, so before I go any further I will lift up the voices of some folks of color whose words have inspired me.

Nekima Levy-Pounds 

Broderick Greer 

Bishop Michael Curry

The Rev Wil Gafney, Ph.D

The Rev Grace Imathiu

This is by no means an exhaustive list and I welcome further suggestions to expand my reading lists. I have also appreciated the writings of James Cone , Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Michelle Alexander. I encourage you to check them out, familiarize yourself with their work and become conversant about Black Lives Matter and the profound racism that continues to plague people of color in America.

As a white person, I have my voice heard almost automatically. My privilege allows others to listen to what I have to say. So I need to proceed carefully with what is mine to say.

Primarily, what is mine to say is to own my white privilege. I was born with advantages because of the color of my skin. I have never been followed in a store for fear of shoplifting. I have never had to fear for my life when being pulled over by police, I just have to fear for a speeding ticket. I don't have to be expected to speak for my entire race or have my experience be generalized as true for all other white people. I benefit from institutionalized racism. I benefit because I have white skin. I might not like to think that I am racist, but I am racist. Because I unknowingly benefit from privilege in an untold number of ways. Because I am ignorant of all of these benefits. 

Next, what is mine to say is that it is not the "job" of people of color to educate us (white people) about racism.  It is OUR job to educate ourselves. Google Black Lives Matter for the basics. Visit NAACP's website. Check out any of the websites of the people linked above. Ask me questions and if I don't know the answer, we can find it out together.

Generalizations such as "We're all the same inside" or "I don't see skin color" etc, are violent. They erase the lived experience of racism and pain and injustice of people of color. These expressions are said with good intentions, but good intentions aren't good enough. Commit to educating yourself and educating your family, friends and neighbors.

Don't assume that your experience is the same as that of others. I have many family members who are law enforcement officers. I work with police, sheriffs, and detectives nearly every day in my work at the hospital.  By and large, my interactions with law enforcement officers have been positive. I respect the work that they do. I have never had a bad interaction, but I don't know the experience of others. Part of my role as an ally to the movement is to honor the stories of others and to believe what they are telling me. It is entirely possible to respect law enforcement officers and want to hold them to a higher standard and because of the many cops that I respect and work alongside, I do want ALL police held to higher standards.

Don't EVER say, "All Lives Matter."  Period. Don't do it. Our racist culture reinforces in thousands of ways that some lives matter more than others. We are lifting up Black Lives Matter because it is time to uncover the racism that has plagued our siblings of color. This is yet another example of invalidating the experience of so many people of color. As white people, we already know that our lives matter. We must keep proclaiming that Black Lives Matter.

The Kumm-Hanson's visit Iceland: final thoughts and tips


A few helpful tips that made our trip a success: 

1. Get a TEP. This is a portable wifi Hotspot. It allowed us to use our phones as GPS devices. It was $10 a day, with unlimited data. 

2. Make sure you have a PIN for your credit card. Most places were fine with a chip reader and a signature, but gas stations require PINs. This was an afterthought for us, but we are glad we did it. 

3. Go swimming as often as possible. Icelandic pools have precise etiquette: take your shoes off before entering locker room, take a full shower without swimsuit, leave towel in locker room near shower & don't use your cell phone in locker rooms or pool. Embrace it & relax. Pools are the main social spot in Iceland and they are spectacular. 

4. Cash isn't really necessary. We picked up a nominal amount of cash in the airport, but really only used it for tipping drivers and small purchases like coffee. And if you need it, ATMs are readily available. 

5. Bring an eye mask. The sun didn't really set in the summer. Regulating our sleep was a real challenge. It was difficult to go to sleep without the cue of darkness. We also took Benadryl a few nights when we were really keyed up. 


Thanks for a spectacular honeymoon, Iceland. This is Greenland from the air upon our departure.

The Kumm-Hanson's visit Iceland part 7: the Icelandic countryside


On our way to Jokulsarlon we saw the south coast of Iceland. We stopped in the town of Selfoss for lunch, which is pretty much the last larger town in order to buy food or other things in larger stores. Most small towns have gas stations (N4 is the common one here) and there are generally cafes and coffee shops also. 

But there are large swaths of countryside with nothing but stunning scenery and lots of sheep. 

We stopped at Seljalandsfoss. Absolutely breathtaking! 




You can hike behind the waterfall. This waterfall is right off the road, so it's filled with tourists and tour buses. There's a food truck and souvenir shop, as well as basic outhouses. 

Next waterfall is Skogafoss, a powerful and tumultuous expanse of water. There's an epic hiking trail behind the waterfall that allows you to access a glacier. 




This appears to be a popular camping spot. You can tent near the trail. There are clean modern restrooms with showers (think KOA), as well as a tiny town with cafes and hotels. 

This is the volcano that caused a worldwide issue in 2010 and got people thinking about Iceland. 

On our return to the city we stopped at Vik, a town on the black sand beach. 




Vik is a good place to stop for gas or food. There's an excellent restaurant (try the seafood chowder!)  as well as what appears to be an Icewear outlet store (Icelandic woolen items). 

And some random beautiful things to look at: